Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Public Service
Meeting on 23 March 1998

Progress of Promoting the Wider Use of Chinese in the Civil Service


This paper informs Members of the progress and latest developments of the Government's effort in promoting the wider use of Chinese in the civil service.


2. In 1995, the Government published the "Report of the Working Group on the Use of Chinese in the Civil Service", setting out the long-term policy objective of developing a civil service which is able to communicate effectively in both Chinese and English and generally fluent in Cantonese, Putonghua and English.


3. A most effective way to develop a civil service proficient in both Chinese and English is to set appropriate entry requirements. Specifying language requirements for appointment to the civil service can ensure that new recruits possess the appropriate language abilities in both Chinese and English. Since 1 August 1995, we have introduced an arrangement whereby new recruits appointed on local permanent and pensionable terms have to meet requirements in respect of the Chinese and English language stipulated for different posts.


4. Apart from introducing language requirements for recruitment, the Government's strategy is to implement proactive measures to encourage bureaux and departments to promote wider use of Chinese in official business in a progressive and systematic manner, having regard to their own mode of operation and nature of service. We are also committed to raising the Chinese language proficiency of civil servants to complement our policy of promoting the use of Chinese.

5. Our work in promoting the wider use of Chinese in the civil service includes :

  1. developing the framework for official writing in Chinese. This includes setting guidelines and standards for the civil service and conducting reviews on the use of Chinese by civil servants;

  2. fostering a favourable environment for the wider use of Chinese within the civil service by providing support services and facilities, compiling reference materials and producing writing aids;

  3. strengthening liaison with bureaux/departments and grades to monitor the progress on the use of Chinese; and

  4. organising training programmes to enhance the Chinese language ability of civil servants.


Framework for official writing in Chinese

6. The Official Languages Agency (OLA) has issued "Guidelines on the Use of Chinese in the Civil Service" and the "Format of a Use of Chinese Plan" for distribution to bureaux/departments to help them formulate strategies for promoting the use of Chinese and to provide guidance to civil servants for preparing Chinese documents. It has also published a set of nine "Guidebooks on Official Chinese Writing" to advise civil servants on the style and format of official Chinese documents.

Fostering a Favourable Environment

7. To foster a favourable environment for the wider use of Chinese in the civil service, OLA has :-

  1. compiled a set of 18 English-Chinese Glossaries of Terms Commonly Used in Government Departments to standardize the terms used in official documents. To expedite search through the various volumes, an electronic edition of the glossaries has also been produced and made available to bureaux and departments. OLA will continue to update existing glossaries and compile new ones;

  2. developed templates of format of commonly used official documents, such as letters, memoranda, file minutes, agenda and minutes of meetings for use by civil servants in Chinese word processors;

  3. implemented a three-year project at a cost of $112.8 million to provide Chinese word processing (CWP) equipment and software, and training for secretarial, clerical and executive grade staff. The project was launched in April 1996. As at the beginning of March 1998, OLA has distributed about 3,600 sets of CWP equipment and software to various bureaux/departments, and has arranged CWP training for 12,700 General Grades staff. It is estimated that, by March 1999, all staff of the executive and secretarial grades, and about 60% of the clerical grades staff will have received CWP training to facilitate their day-to-day work;

  4. organized seminars and introduced a telephone enquiry service to provide expert advice on the use of Chinese and for exchange of experience; and

  5. strengthened the role of the Chinese Language Officer grade in promoting the use of Chinese. In addition to their traditional duties of providing translation and interpretation services, Chinese Language Officers will advise civil servants on the usage of Chinese through answering enquiries and vetting Chinese drafts. Enhanced training programmes are being provided for Chinese Language Officers to further improve their language proficiency with a view to offering more effective assistance to civil servants on the use of Chinese.

Strengthening Liaison With Bureaux/Departments and Grades

8. OLA has been liaising actively with Government bureaux/departments and grades to encourage a wider use of Chinese. Details are set out below :

  1. In 1996, nine departments which had regular contact with the public were invited to take part in a pilot scheme to try promoting Chinese in a systematic manner. These departments are the Urban Services Department, Regional Services Department, Fire Services Department, Immigration Department, Education Department, Social Welfare Department, Home Affairs Department (formerly the City and New Territories Administration), Housing Department and Labour Department. Even though the pilot scheme had concluded at the end of 1996, these nine departments are still active in using Chinese in their work.

  2. Bureaux/departments have been encouraged to set up working groups to coordinate internal efforts in promoting the use of Chinese. So far, a total of 42 working groups have been formed. They play an active role in identifying the types of documents where Chinese can be used, and organizing activities to promote the use of Chinese. Some bureaux/departments where such working groups have not been formed have devised their own means for coordinating the wider use of Chinese, such as assigning an officer at the directorate level to monitor the use of Chinese within the bureau/department, and including related issues in discussion at senior staff or departmental administration committee meetings.

  3. In 1997/98, visits were paid to more than 30 bureaux/departments and grades to exchange views on the use of Chinese. These visits will continue in 1998/99.

  4. A liaison network has been set up to strengthen communication with bureaux/departments, in order to monitor their latest developments on the use of Chinese.

Language Training for Civil Servants

9. To support bureaux/departments in promoting the use of Chinese, the Civil Service Training and Development Institute (CSTDI) has stepped up language training for civil servants to facilitate the use of Chinese in their day-to-day work. A variety of courses on Chinese writing, such as "Workshop on Use of Chinese in Official Correspondence", "Style and Tone in Chinese Official Correspondence", "Official Writing in the Mainland and in Hong Kong: a General Comparison", etc., have been organised. Self-learning packages are produced and distributed to departments and grades to facilitate officers who are unable to attend classroom training owing to office commitments. These packages provide an alternative channel for training in official Chinese writing. Between 1995/96 and 1997/98, 27,900 training places were offered and 83,000 self-learning packages distributed.

10. As regards Putonghua training, CSTDI has offered standard as well as tailor-made courses for various departments and grades, and has significantly increased the number of training places. Between 1995/96 and 1997/98, 21,500 training places were provided and the total number of self-learning packages distributed reached 42,000.

11. CSTDI has continued to organise courses on Cantonese and written Chinese for non-Cantonese speaking civil servants to cater for their job requirements. Between 1995/96 and 1997/98, about 850 officers enrolled in these courses.

Use of Chinese Within the Civil Service

12. The above measures to promote the wider use of Chinese within the civil service have produced positive results. This is evident from the wider use of Chinese in the following areas :

  1. replies to Chinese letters received from members of the public and staff unions;

  2. documents and notes of internal meetings attended by local officers;

  3. internal circulars for issue to local officers;

  4. speeches, leaflets and working reports;

  5. departmental publication and newsletters; and

  6. papers for public consultation.


13. In 1998/99, the priority tasks for promoting the wider use of Chinese include the following :

  1. Outreaching Task Force

    Starting from January this year, OLA has launched a pilot outreach programme led by Chinese Language Officers to help bureaux/departments develop strategies on promoting the use of Chinese based on their own needs and circumstances. The support provided by the task force includes :

      - assessing the current situation of the use of Chinese in the bureaux/departments and providing support on equipment and facilities required;

      - formulating strategies for promoting the use of Chinese;

      - drawing up guidelines on the use of Chinese; and

      - identifying areas where more Chinese can be used.

  2. Developing templates for official Chinese documents

    OLA will develop templates for commonly used Chinese documents for a number of departments to facilitate their staff to use Chinese directly in official business.

  3. Translation of important regulations and circulars

    Attempts to promote wider use of Chinese may start from departmental administration work. As civil servants have to use different General Forms and those responsible for administration work have to refer to Government Regulations from time to time, OLA is making arrangements for all main Government Regulations (including the Civil Service Regulations) and General Forms to be translated into Chinese. This will facilitate the use of Chinese in official business.

  4. A common Chinese character set for use in the civil service

    To support the office automation project and the policy of wider use of Chinese, funds will be allocated to OLA in 1998/99 for developing a common Chinese character set for use in the civil service to facilitate the electronic interchange of Chinese document files.

  5. Training Programmes

    In 1998/99, CSTDI will continue to organise courses to help enhance the Chinese language standards of civil servants. The planned capacity of Chinese writing courses will remain at 9,500 to 10,000 places. CSTDI will also continue to distribute self-learning packages at the request of departments/grades. The estimated demand is 16,000 sets. As for Putonghua training, the number of training places will be increased to 7,500, while an estimated number of 7,000 self-learning packages will be distributed. In addition, over 200 training places will be provided to those civil servants who cannot read Chinese or who are not fluent in Cantonese.


14. The Government is making good progress in promoting the wider use of Chinese in the civil service. With the continued extension of the promotional activities, it is envisaged that Chinese will be even more widely used by civil servants in official business.